Gut check time for Kazakhstan vs Philippines in FIBA Asian Qualifiers

Gut check time for Kazakhstan vs Philippines in FIBA Asian Qualifiers

The Philippine men's basketball team takes on Kazakhstan on Friday.PBA Image

MANILA, Philippines – It is gut check time for Kazakhstan when it comes to the Asian Qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

At 3-5, the Kazakhs are on the outside looking in.

It will be tough to catch Australia at 7-1 and possibly Iran at 6-2. The Philippines has two games up on them at 5-3 while Japan, at fourth spot, is at an even 4-4.

Unfortunately, Kazakhstan will be playing the two teams directly above them in the next two games — the Philippines on November 30 and Japan on December 3.

The Kazakhs opened their Asian Qualifying campaign with two wins — 82-70 over Qatar and 82-76 over Iraq. However, when they ran into tougher opposition, they got creamed.

Iran blew them off the court, 75-54, in front of their home crowd in Astana. They righted their ship with a repeated win over Qatar 96-63.

Then came the shock of their lives when they were ambushed by an Iraq team playing their “home games” at Doha. The Iraqis prevailed, 64-50. It was a loss with huge implications for an away match with Iran was next. A massacre ensued, 88-56. Two other blowouts losses ensured, 85-70, to a rejuvenated Japan, and 94-41 to Australia.

It is a young team that head coach Renatas Kurilionokas will bring to Manila — with an average age of 26 years old and an average height of 6’5”.

In contrast, the Philippines has an average height of 6’5” as well and is slightly older in terms of age with an average of 29 years for the players.

For Kazakhstan to make headway against the Philippines and what will surely be a boisterous home crowd, they need their 3-point shots to fall. Beyond the arc is where they get a lot of their points.

They are also a pretty good rebounding team; even with the Philippines. The battle will be who can stop the other from doing what they do best.

For the Kazakhs, it is shooting outside. For the Philippines, it is pounding the ball inside and getting on the fast break. The Filipinos average about 39 points inside the lane as compared to Kazakhstan’s 22.

The Kazakhs need their starters to stay in the game and not get into foul trouble because their bench production is rather poor as compared to the Filipinos — 41.3 to 24.8.

One of their key players is 6’9” power forward Anton Ponomarev, who has only played two matches due to injury. If he can return, he will help their frontline. Ponomarev is their scoring leader with an average of 19.5 points per game. He also helps on the boards with 7.0 rebounds and is able to pick out teammates for baskets with 2.0 assists per game.

However, when the Philippines played Kazakhstan in the recent Asian Games for a 96-59 blowout win, it was 6’6” power forward Anton Bykov, who led them in scoring and rebounding.

One other threat is 29-year-old 6’7” forward Anatoliy Kolsenikov, who tallies 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per match.

Kazakhstan will need their backcourt duo of Rustam Murzagaliyev and Rustam Yergali to click. Both like to bombard from the outside.

Young point guard Murzagaliyev, who plays for BC Astana, adds 8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per match. Murzagaliyev started his country’s campaign on a hot shooting clip, but with teams having scouted him and throwing taller defenders at him, his efficiency from 3-point range has dwindled; leaving him to attack that basket. Murzagaliyev isn’t exactly small as he stands 6’4”, but it is a challenge for him to get his offense going.

Yergali, the shooting guard, averages 11.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

If the two can get going, they will help out their small frontline. And if they can get some bench production (not to mention of Ponomarev is back in the team) that will help plenty. And it might give them an outside chance of challenging for a top three spot in Group F of the Asian Qualifiers.